What Do Famous Literary Characters Actually Look Like?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureOne of the best aspects of reading is that your imagination gets to play casting director for all the characters in a novel. Sure, the author provides some details, but ultimately, it is your imagination that is the brush that paints the canvas. Each reader gets to come up with their own notion of what Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, Juliet Capulet, Ebenezer Scrooge, Elizabeth Bennett, Captain Ahab, and Anna Karenina looks like. And that assumes that your virtual central casting has not been influenced by watching the films and television adaptations of the famous books that introduced their characters.

Enter New Yorker Brian Davis, a filmmaker and digital artist, who uses commercially available law enforcement software to create accurate portraits of literary characters based on the actual descriptions found in their respective novels. The software, which is used to create portraits of perpetrators based on eyewitness descriptions, taps into a large database of facial features — adding them one at a time to build a composite portrait. In an interview, Davis explains his inspiration for the literary character series, The Composites: “The series started when when I wondered if I could buy law enforcement sketch software and discovered that I could. From there I decided to do literary portraits based on text descriptions from novels, focusing on more ‘infamous’ characters who may be deserving of a police sketch.” In many cases Davis’ portraits match up with how a director has cast that character in a film; examples include, Javert (Les Miserables), Lisbeth (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Emma Bovary (Madame Bovary), Constance Chatterley (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), Captain Ahab (Moby Dick) and Jack Torrance (The Shining). Other times, it is clear when directors cast against a character’s description in a novel. For example, in Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho, Norman Bates wears glasses, has sandy hair, and is plump. Anthony Perkins, who was cast as Bates, does not wear glasses, has dark hair, and is very slim. Another example is Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name. In the novel, Frankenstein looks more like a man than a halloween mask — he has wavy, wispy hair, high check bones, normal forehead and facial features — and no scars along the top of his forehead, nor bolts extruding from his neck.

Read related posts: The Most Influential People Who Never Lived
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For further reading: http://thecomposites.tumblr.com

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